The lay “Fiddler on the Roof” recounts the story of Jewish persecution in Eastern Europe and Russia.
President Abraham Lincoln, shortly after he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, met with Canadian Christian Zionist, Henry Wentworth Monk regarding the oppression of Russian and Turkish Jews. Lincoln showed sympathy for Monk’s pleas of: “restoring them to their national home in Palestine.”
Lincoln noted this was “a noble dream and one shared by many Americans.”
On May 22, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant wrote to Congress: “In answer to a resolution of the House of Representatives … requesting me to join the Italian Government in a protest against the intolerant and cruel treatment of the Jews in Romania, I transmit a report from the Secretary of State relative to the subject.”
President Chester A. Arthur had stated, Dec. 4, 1882: “Our long-established friendliness with Russia … has prompted me to proffer the earnest counsels of this Government that measures be adopted for suppressing the proscription which the Hebrew race in that country has lately suffered.”
In 1891, pogroms incited by Czar Alexander III provoked an outcry by many prominent Americans, including the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and Speaker of the House. Rev. William E. Blackstone and Cardinal James Gibbons presented a petition on behalf of the persecuted Jews of Russia to President Benjamin Harrison and Secretary of State James Blaine. The petition was signed by notable leaders, including John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Cyrus McCormick, the U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice, D.L. Moody, A.T. Pierson, Philip Schaff, and future president William McKinley.
The petition stated: “Why shall not the powers which under the treaty of Berlin, in 1878, gave Bulgaria to the Bulgarians and Serbia to the Serbians now give Palestine back to the Jews? … These provinces, as well as Romania, Montenegro, and Greece, were wrested from the Turks and given to their natural owners. Does not Israel as rightfully belong to the Jews?”
Rev. William E. Blackstone’s petition, which he also sent to Queen Victoria and Czar Alexander III, continued: “We believe this is an appropriate time for all nations and especially the Christian nations of Europe to show kindness to Israel. A million of exiles, by their terrible suffering, are piteously appealing to our sympathy, justice, and humanity. Let us now restore to them the land of which they were so cruelly despoiled by our Roman ancestors.”
Rev. William E. Blackstone, who later corresponded with Theodor Herzl, called for the first international conference: “to consider the Israelite claim to Palestine as their ancient home, and to promote in any other just and proper way the alleviation of their suffering condition.”
President Benjamin Harrison wrote Dec. 9, 1891: “This government has found occasion to express … to the government of the Czar its serious concern because of the harsh measures now being enforced against the Hebrews in Russia. … By the revival of anti-semitic laws, long in abeyance, great numbers of those unfortunate people have been constrained to abandon their homes and leave the Empire by reason of the impossibility of finding subsistence within the pale to which it is sought to confine them. …”
President Harrison continued: “The immigration of these people to the United States – many others countries being closed to them – is largely increasing. … It is estimated that over 1,000,000 will be forced from Russia within a few years. …”
Harrison went on: “The Hebrew is never a beggar; he has always kept the law – life by toil – often under severe and oppressive civil restrictions. … It is also true that no race, sect, or class has more fully cared for its own than the Hebrew race. …”
President Benjamin Harrison concluded: “This consideration, as well as the suggestion of humanity, furnishes ample ground for the remonstrances which we have presented to Russia.”
On Dec. 2, 1895, President Grover Cleveland wrote to Congress: “Correspondence is on foot touching the practice of Russian consuls … to interrogate citizens as to their race and religious faith, and upon ascertainment thereof to deny to Jews authentication of passports of legal documents for use in Russia. … Such a proceeding imposes a disability … and … is an obnoxious invasion. … It has elicited fitting remonstrance.”
President Theodore Roosevelt addressed Congress, Dec. 6, 1904: “It is inevitable that such a nation should desire eagerly to give expression to its horror on an occasion like that of the massacre of the Jews in Kishenef.”
President Woodrow Wilson made a plea for aid to stricken Jewish people, Jan. 11, 1916: “Whereas in the various countries now engaged in war there are nine millions of Jews, the great majority of whom are destitute of food, shelter, and clothing … have been driven from their homes without warning, deprived of an opportunity to make provision for their most elementary wants, causing starvation, disease and untold suffering; and Whereas the people of the United States of America have learned with sorrow of this terrible plight of millions of human beings and have most generously responded to the cry for help. … Now, Therefore, I, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States … do appoint and proclaim January 27, 1916, as a day upon which the people of the United States may make such contributions as they feel disposed for the aid of the stricken Jewish people.”
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